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Mental health professionals demand cancellation of Israel conference

More than 200 leading mental health professionals from around the world have signed an open letter calling for the cancellation of a European psychotherapy conference scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in August.


In the letter, published in the UK newspaper The Independent, the psychologists and psychoanalysts, many from the UK, France and the United States, urge their colleagues to respect the Palestinian call for boycott and stay away from the conference should it go ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, leading actors, authors, academics and architects in the UK have put their names to an open letter to David Cameron, urging the UK prime minister to push for immediate EU sanctions on Israel until it abides by international law and ends its occupation and siege of Palestinian territories.

The two letters, with their diversity of signatures, highlight how the boycott, divestment and sanctionsmovement (BDS) is growing in range and scale.

Israeli propaganda

Palestinian and Israeli psychotherapists and psychologists are among those who have signed the letter calling on the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapists (EABCT) to relocate or cancel its annual congress this year.

The EABCT’s website advertises the congress as taking place in “Jerusalem, Israel,” ignoring the fact that no country, including the UK, recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Israel conquered and ethnically cleansed the western part of the city in 1948 and occupied the eastern part in 1967. East Jerusalem is considered under international law to be part of the occupied West Bank.

Echoing Israeli government propaganda, EABCT describes Israel as a “modern, multicultural, ‘startup nation’” and Jerusalem as “an ideal city to tour.” The congress website even hosts an Israeli government promotional video about the country titled “Small but Outstanding.”

Israel’s occupation, systematic demolitions of Palestinian homes and other severe restrictions on Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents are not mentioned.

And, in a nod to normalization, EABCT states on its website that its 45th congress will be “committed” to presenting psychotherapy’s “related potential to peace-making and conflict resolution.”

Psychological suffering

In their open letter, the mental health professionals write:

Last summer over 2,200 persons, including over 500 children, died in Israel’s appalling assault on Gaza. We can only imagine the ongoing physical and psychological suffering of those who survived. Just one year on, the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapists has chosen Israel as the location for its 2015 annual conference.

Rather than help participants acknowledge the dire psychological consequences of the occupation, the organizers invite overseas participants to regard Israel as a successful, vibrant, multicultural tourist destination.

Therapeutic work is an ethical practice that protects against the possibility of replicating or legitimizing abusive power relations between unequal participants. While psychotherapists instinctively endorse efforts at conflict resolution through interpersonal contact, to promote ‘dialogue’ in the abstract shows a deplorable lack of attention to these principles.

Rubbing salt in wounds

Explaining why she put her name to the letter, US psychoanalyst Nancy Hollander, said: “The aim must be for Palestinians to enjoy equal civil liberties and social justice in a land that belongs to them as well as to Jewish Israelis. As an American Jew, I want the Israeli state to know that, along with many other Jews, I oppose the repressive policies that it carries out ‘not in my name.’”

Israel was chosen as the venue for the European conference – to be chaired by Sofi Marom, of the Israel Association for CBT [cognitive and behavioral therapy] – in 2014, despite its location in the Middle East.

At its annual general meeting that year, the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapistspassed a resolution condemning the choice of venue.

Writing in the Association’s journal in December 2014, Mohammed Mukhaimar, who seconded the motion, described movingly the challenges of psychological therapists in Palestine, who face the same traumas as their patients.

“Our colleague in Gaza, Yasser Abu Jame, a psychiatrist, has lost 26 of his family members, while Hassan Zeada, a psychologist, lost his mother and five members of his family in the current Israeli attack on Gaza,” Mukhaimer writes.

“Compared to their Israeli colleagues from established and supported mental health services, Palestinian therapists face the challenge of limited access to mental health training and ongoing supervision made worse by limited resources, restrictions on movement and siege,” he adds. “And here comes the EABCT congress next year in Jerusalem to add more salt to the wound.”

The letter to The Independent was coordinated by the UK-Palestine Mental Health Network. In a press statement, spokesperson Eliana Pinto, a retired psychotherapist, said: “It is not enough for mental health professionals to respond clinically to the psychological damage caused by the occupation. It is important that we organize to address the causes of such preventable suffering.”

Sanctions on Israel

Addressing the sanctions part of the BDS call, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) coordinated a letter to the UK prime minister, calling for immediate sanctions on Israel.

The letter was signed by authors Tariq Ali, Selma Dabbagh, Ahdaf Soueif and Benjamin Zephaniah; actors including Miriam Margolyes and Samuel West and musician Brian Eno, among others.

More than 20,000 members of the public put their names to a petition which accompanied the letter, and which was delivered to Parliament during PSC’s national lobby of lawmakers.

Explaining the reason for demanding sanctions, PSC Chair Hugh Lanning said: “It is clear that this Israeli government, like others before it, has no commitment to international law or any kind of ‘peace process’. It is now imperative that our government pushes the EU to impose immediate sanctions on Israel, including a full two-way arms embargo.”

Ending impunity

Award-winning architect Will Alsop, also a signatory to the letter, said in a statement issued by PSC: “I have signed the petition as I object to the people in the Gaza Strip being forced to live in a prison camp.”

Explaining why he added his name to the petition, director Ken Loach said: “When political leaders tolerate such brutality, civil society must take action. That means an international campaign of boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions to show the Israeli government that it cannot act in this manner with impunity.”

That message – of using BDS to challenge Israel’s impunity for its crimes against the Palestinian people – is now being heeded, not just by growing numbers of people across the globe, but, as these two open letters show, by an increasingly diverse and prominent range of people, all of whom are keen to stand up for Palestinian rights.


Amena Saleem Activism and BDS Beat 16 July 2015

The Electronic Intifada 17 juli 2015

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